The parliamentary joint committee on constitutional review has so far received 140 000 written submissions about possible changes to land ownership rights and will request the National Assembly extend the deadline to report back by August 30, according to co-chairperson Vincent Smith.
The written submissions and request for oral submissions opened on April 13 and will close on May 31 while the committee is left with the massive task of sifting through the genuine submissions and automated responses that some organisations encouraged their members to send repeatedly.
“Clearly someone is just clicking the send button,” Smith said in a telephonic interview with Fin24 on Monday.
Smith is due to give an update to the 24 members of the joint committee on Thursday, where they will also adopt a plan for the public participation phase in all 9 provinces as well as discuss how to handle the large volume of responses they have received so far.
After going through the valid written submissions, people who requested to deliver oral presentations will be invited before the committee.
The National Assembly in February adopted a motion for a constitutional review allowing for the expropriation of land without compensation and referred the matter to a joint constitutional review committee to review section 25 of the Constitution and other clauses, if necessary, to make it possible for the state to expropriate land in the public interest without compensation.
The committee has 24 members, made up of National Assembly and National Council of Provinces (NCOP) members and is co-chaired by ANC MPs Vincent Smith and Musawenkosi Nzimande. Other members include Democratic Alliance MPs Glynnis Breytenbach and James Selfe and Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) leader Julius Malema.
Public hearings rollout
The public participation phase by the joint constitutional review committee was scheduled to get underway at the end of May, after written submissions close, but due to the NCOP running two weeks behind parliament, members will need to be in the house to pass budget votes and Smith will propose that they begin on June 20.
The committee will split into two, inland and coastal provinces and Smith says they have allocated 4 days for rural provinces such as Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Northern Cape, including one weekend day for those who are working to attend. Inland, smaller provinces will have 3 days of public hearings.
“It’s a nightmare, it will take a lot of planning,” Smith told Fin24.
The committee is working with provincial legislatures and mayors to ensure free access to venues for the hearings, such as city halls and assistance with transport for participants.
The Committee is targeting 350 - 400 people to attend each sitting in all 9 provinces and a team will arrive in the area a few days ahead of the hearings to advertise the event.
MPs can’t wait
Asked about the diverse nature of the MPs who will be involved in the hearings, Smith said that many members of the committee “can’t wait to get going”.
“Personally, I think it’s going to be a challenge, to tell MPs they’re going to listen, not to influence.
“It will have to be a balancing act, to keep the team as a team, not to push an agenda for their party which will be tempting.”
The motion in February to review the constitution was adopted along clear party lines, after a vote where 241 MPs voted for the motion with 83 MPs voting against it, with the ANC and EFF in favour and the DA and Freedom Front Plus opposing it.
Smith said that he feels the pressure from both sides of the public debate about the critical and often emotional issue.
“It’s almost damned if you, damned if you don’t.”
Request for extension
Smith will propose to committee members on Thursday that they ask the National Assembly to extend the August 30 deadline to mid-September in order to conduct the extensive public hearings process.
“The Constitutional Court has been clear in the past, can’t have a sham consultation… I’m not prepared to compromise about consultation”.
The ANC promised in its 1994 election manifesto to redistribute 30% of white owned commercial land within 5 years. By 2016, just 8-9% had been moved to black hands and the ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ instrument used by the state has been criticised for the slow pace of land reform.
At its 54th national conference in December, the ANC adopted a resolution to expropriate land without compensation with the caveat that this should not affect food security or other sectors of the economy.